Wendell and Wild: Review
Stop-motion animation icon Henry Selick returns behind the camera with Wendell and Wild. Stop-motion animation is a wonderfully expressive art form crafted from dozens of intricate designs, elaborate backdrops and precise movements. Every minute element is a pure labor of love that requires hours, if not days, of attention to execute. The art forms demanding qualities are part of what makes Selick's work so extraordinary, with the auteur enjoying a prosperous career out of conjuring uniquely gothic tales like Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Selick's latest endeavor features an intriguing collaboration with comedian-turned-horror-visionary Jordan Peele. The duo tells the tale of Kat – an orphaned teenager who finds herself traveling from one juvenile delinquent home after another following her parents' passing. When she arrives at her latest destination, Kat discovers she possesses powers to summon two demon brothers, Wendell and Wild, who help in Kat's efforts to resuscitate her parents. Her abilities eventually become more than she bargains for when a sinister plot from two cynical tycoons seeking to transform her dilapidated hometown into a prison unveils itself.
Adults can often write off animation as an art form strictly for children, but Wendell and Wild showcases why that's not the case. Bursting with imaginative imagery and stimulating ideals, Wendell and Wild provides a refreshing breath of fresh air for the family film sphere.
Part of what makes this project so alluring is the impressive partnership between Selick and Peele. It's hard enough to make one voice, let alone two, feel everpresent behind the camera. With Wendell and Wild, Selick's technical aptitude effortlessly complements Peele's penchant for challenging social commentary.
Visually, the film evokes an entrancing sense of place and atmosphere. The jagged imperfections and contorted movements of the film's stop-motion designs are an apt tool for displaying a town and its populous disenfranchised by the world around them. Selick and his creative team lean into their macabre sensibility with immaculate results, conjuring an array of dynamic visuals that further accent the film's infectious, punk rock energy. It's also incredible to see how much Selick continues evolving his craft. Whether it's glimmers stemming from reflective shadows or the iridescent blend of nightmarish colors, Wendell and Wild finds several avenues for expanding the stop-motion art form.
The film's storytelling approach is equally adept. Peele and Selick offer a pointed perspective through their slew of colorful characters, often reflecting on cynical commercialization efforts conducted by business monopolies, corrupt government officials and bad-faith community leaders. While several personas see the broken community as a stomping ground for extracting profits, Kat and her spirited companions fight to return their community to its former glory days. The screenplay weaves this concept with humorous one-liners and moments of genuine reflection, showcasing some of the storytelling magic that makes Peele a beloved voice in the industry.
It also helps to have a talented voice cast who can effectively personify these characters. Peele reteams effectively with his Key and Peele comedy partner Keegan-Michael Key as the lovably buffoonish Wendell and Wild, while emerging star Lyric Ross imbues proper conviction into her role as Kat.
In a world where family films embrace a safe and homogenized aesthetic, Wendell and Wild swings for the fences with impressive results. I am excited to make the film a new Halloween staple of mine for years to come.
Wendell and Wild is now playing on Netflix.